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The Boston Globe

Business

Entrepreneurs fight paid forum on venture capital

A highly public spat has broken out between members of Boston’s startup community and the organizers of a conference Wednesday in Dedham that charges new entrepreneurs and other attendees for access to venture investors.

The war of words began when youngStartup Ventures, a New York firm that stages business conferences around the country, organized the New England Venture Summit, taking place at Hilton Boston Dedham, that costs as much as $1,095 for attendees to hear tips from more than 40 venture capitalists.

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That kind of cover charge rubbed many techies in Boston the wrong way. So much so that they are staging their own event at the same time, in Kendall Square Wednesday afternoon. Called Unpitch Boston, the event has 30 local venture capitalists volunteering to mix among young entrepreneurs — and it’s entirely free. (Boston Globe columnist Scott Kirsner is among the organizers of the Unpitch event.)

“Entrepreneurs should never pay to pitch,” said Philip Beauregard, chief executive officer of Boston startup Objective Logistics and an organizer of the Unpitch event. “These are literally people who can’t afford to buy lunch.”

YoungStartup Ventures did not return a call seeking comment, but it defended the conference on its blog by saying it is providing a much-needed service for early stage companies to find funding. The company said its business is similar to many other such conferences around the country, and moreover the group is coaching startup workers on how best to woo potential investors.

In response to the criticism of the Boston event, one event organizer said that by discouraging youngStartup Ventures “from producing programs, you are actually damaging the ecosystem and doing startups a huge disservice.”

The daylong Dedham event will involve startup founders pitching their companies, panel discussions on the latest technology trends, and networking among investors and entrepreneurs. Among the venture firms scheduled to appear are Birchmere Ventures, Covidien Ventures, and Excel Venture Management.

Beauregard and other members of Boston’s startup community have used social media, especially Twitter, to discourage local entrepreneurs from attending the youngStartup Ventures event.

Though the company has held numerous venture summits in the Boston area, this year’s event seems to have struck a particular nerve within the local tech community.

For example, youngStartup Ventures initially advertised that its New England summit would include a partner from the hot local venture capital firm Spark Capital — even though Spark had not agreed to take part.

That elicited an angry retort on Twitter from Spark Capital investor Alex Finkelstein: “Entrepreneurs, don’t attend New England VC Summit, scam artist charging companies to present and claiming VCs will be there who 100% won’t.”

Finkelstein said the organization was also using his name to promote other events around the country.

The current list of speakers on the New England summit website does not include Finkelstein or Spark as a presenter at the Dedham event.

Though paid conferences with expert presenters are a staple of many industries, the issue of paying for access to investors has been the subject of much debate in the technology hotbeds of Boston and Silicon Valley.

Members of the Boston tech community appeared to take particular aim at youngStartup Ventures after several entrepreneurs complained about its past events here, and the issue of “paying to pitch” gained new prominence via Twitter.

But one entrepreneur who does not mind paying the youngStartup fee is Rod Massey, a maker of mobile apps from Nashville.

Massey recently attended a youngStartup event in New York and will be in Dedham Wednesday.

“It gives us the ability to have access to VCs and investors, but also to receive coaching and guidance about the message we are delivering,” said Massey, whose company, iCitizen Corp., produces apps designed to increase civic engagement.

“There are certainly other venues where you can practice your pitch,” Massey said. “But the amount that we’re talking about is a small amount in the scheme of things if you look at the value of what you’re doing or achieving.”

But the hometown crowd is not buying it, as they banded together in just a few weeks to put together the Unpitch event. One of the presenters at Unpitch will be Alex Finkelstein from Spark Capital.

Michael B. Farrell can be reached at michael.farrell@globe.com.

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